Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo
Another Saint of the Day for April 30
Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo’s Story
In some ways Joseph exemplified St. Francis’ advice, “Let us begin to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have made little or no progress” (1 Celano, #103).
Joseph was the eldest of 12 children. Born in Piedmont, he was ordained for the Diocese of Turin in 1811. Frail health and difficulty in school were obstacles he overcame to reach ordination.
During Joseph’s lifetime, Italy was torn by civil war while the poor and the sick suffered from neglect. Inspired by reading the life of Saint Vincent de Paul and moved by the human suffering all around him, Joseph rented some rooms to nurse the sick of his parish and recruited local young women to serve as staff.
In 1832, at Voldocco, Joseph founded the House of Providence which served many different groups (the sick, the elderly, students, the mentally ill, the blind). All of this was financed by contributions. Popularly called “the University of Charity,” this testimonial to God’s goodness was serving 8,000 people by the time of Joseph’s beatification in 1917.
To carry on his work, Joseph organized two religious communities, the Brothers of St. Vincent de Paul and the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul. Joseph, who had joined the Secular Franciscans as a young man, was canonized in 1934.
How do we know God’s will for us? Is that will static? Joseph did not begin the work for which he is most famous until 21 years after his ordination. Years of praying and searching certainly kept Joseph alert to God’s call. However well we have responded to our neighbor’s need in the past, God is surely calling us to greater generosity. That must have been what Francis meant when he said, “Let us begin to serve the Lord God.”